Showing posts with label lifestyle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lifestyle. Show all posts

November 03, 2011

Nightmare on Modi Street

I have moved into a flat in the Fort area of Mumbai. It is a short walk from Victoria Terminus, the main train station in town. Up three stories of rickety stairs is my claustrophobic domicile. The stairwell is so dark that a flashlight is required even in the daytime to see the steps clearly. There are no windows in some rooms, although there is air conditioning.

Since the cost of the electricity consumed by the AC is included in the rent, which is apparently a rarity in Bombay, the tenants take full advantage of it. The average temperature inside is more akin to Canada than India. While I lay curled up and shivering at night, that is not what keeps me awake. Perhaps it is the bedbugs or perhaps it is the landlord, his brothers, and other lackeys who stay up all night watching TV at maximum volume. Tamil movies and the Indian version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" garner the highest ratings.

The apartment has two bathrooms, one of which has a shower and one a sink without a faucet. Unluckily, I share it with 13 other men. There is another sink outside, which is used for washing vegetables and brushing teeth. One guy uses so much Axe body spray that it burns my eyes. Another gripes continuously about a long list of problems that life has thrown at him in a thick accent. His roommates listen on silently, either because they are captivated by the minutiae of his life or because they can sleep with their eyes open. I later realized he was talking on the phone to his girlfriend or fiance, whom he may or may not have met in real life.

So far I have stayed in three rooms. I was shuttled from one room to another, when the guy whose bed I had been sleeping in initially arrived back at the apartment at dawn one day. He had gone back home to visit his family. I was relocated to the bed of another resident who was away on a business trip. Upon his return, I shifted to the room of the only guy who cooks in the apartment. Since there are no tables in the flat, he eats on his bed. He cannot eat out since he is recovering from jaundice.


Me: They also smoke, fart, and ball scratch.
Friend: Looks like you've found your tribe...well done!

November 22, 2010

A Civilized Urinating

In China, an urinal primarily functions as an ashtray for the masses. Cigarette butts fill the urinal while the actual urine collects in a pool on the ground below it. These streams then form into tributaries of the Yellow River. Authorities have tried to reduce the popularity of this floor-peeing phenomenon by displaying instructions above urinals notifying potty patrons on correct usage of the facilities:

 "Thinking of making things easy for other before urinating"

"It's civilized to get close to urinate"

"You can enjoy the fresh air after finishing a civilized urinating"

"Closer, Easier"

Unfortunately, the clever signage has been unable to stem the tide of long distance urination. The motivational messages have met with little success. The urinal remains too close for comfort.

August 08, 2010

Once Upon a Restaurant in China

I spot a restaurant in China that looks like it serves tasty food and take a seat inside. After being offered someone else's bill, a look of bafflement, and a pack of cigarettes, I finally receive a menu. A piece of paper with Chinese writing and a sauce stain is provided to me. The waiter stares at me with piercing eyes, darting impatiently from side to side. 60% of the dishes on the menu are not available. "Don't have, don't have." drones the waiter, distaste dripping from his mouth at my ignorance of the state of the current food inventory at his place of work. I look at what the other customers are eating and point at the items I want, the waiter's blank stare not revealing whether I have made myself understood.

I order a starter, one meat dish, and a bowl of rice. It is hot outside so I cannot ask for a glass of water, as that only comes in the piping hot variety and I need something cool and refreshing. I am brought a room temperature bottle of beer. It is left unopened and I am not given a glass. Soon my main course arrives, followed 45 minutes later by the appetizer, and 5 minutes later by my bowl of rice. I try to explain that I need a plate or bowl to eat from, and am finally provided with some napkins and a glass. The next attempt brings forth chopsticks, and I begin my meal eating directly from the large dishes.

The ratio of staff to customers is 1:2 but most of the workers are clustered into groups chatting with each other or solitary types who are often found to be staring into space. It is hard to attract the attention of a waiter without yelling at them, but that is not my style. Sometimes there is a glimmer of recognition that I am motioning for them, but after 15 minutes have passed I realize that this is not the case. Eventually, the staff all sit down at a nearby table and start eating their meal. One notices that I am still trying to attract their attention. I ask for the bill and am given the menu. I ask for the bill and am given a toothpick. I ask for the bill and am given another bottle of beer. I ask for the bill and am given the bill. The figures are within a reasonable range of my estimates. Similar to when I ordered food I am under pressure now. The waiter hovers near me, fixing me with another impatient stare as I struggle to provide exact change. I decide to give him a 100 RMB note instead. Still eyeing me suspiciously, the waiter holds up the note and examines it to see if it is counterfeit before walking back to the counter to retrieve my change.


"It is a good thing that life is not as serious as it seems to a waiter." ~ Don Herold

July 12, 2010


I cook very rarely. If I have to, it means that I have no family, friends, or females around who will make me food or go to a restaurant to eat with me. On the rare occasions that I do enter the kitchen, I am sure to deliver a feast unmatched in taste and texture, untried by the common chef, and untainted by prior cooking experience. I use a combination of heating techniques such as baking, microwaving, burning, grilling, boiling, and toasting to prepare the courses. A pathfinder in the culinary arts, I deliver dishes that the world has not seen before. Since I only cook for myself and never repeat a dish nor write down a recipe, I capture the moments of edible euphoria on camera.


"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." ~ Luciano Pavarotti

June 29, 2010

The Persecution of the ARNABeard

Afflicted with pogonophobia from an early age due to a diet free of follicly gifted men, the vast majority of Chinese girls get the the chills when they see a man with facial hair. One day, I walked onto the street with a coworker. She immediately noticed that she did not have my undivided attention. Following my appreciative gaze, she deduced the source of my distraction.

"Look, so many beautiful girls all around..." she murmured.

"But none of them can speak English." I lamented.

"Have you ever considered that they aren't the problem? That you are!"

"Eh?" I sneered, one of my eyebrows arching upward.

"You should shave your beard!"


"You look like a bonobo!" squealed another Chinese girl, referring to the endangered great apes of Africa.


"Don't worry, you are still a good human being person." a Korean girl said comfortingly, after I told her about the persecution of the ARNABeard in China.


Ceding to popular sentiment, I finally shaved off my magnificent mane one night. The ARNABeard had been tamed, but not for long. Virile to the core, I sported stubble by the next morning. Nonetheless, my 5 o'clock shadow was appreciated by the local beauties far more than the resplendent glory of the thick yet well groomed masterpiece that had previously decorated my face.


"There is always a period when a man with a beard shaves it off. This period does not last. He returns headlong to his beard." ~ Jean Cocteau

June 17, 2010

Salad Days

"I don't see this 'ballooning' weight. However, I know FOR A FACT that drinking 1 million sugar-packed juice boxes and other similar beverages, and 3 days a week worth of fruit (although natural sugar, still sugar) is INCREDIBLEY fattening. If I did that I would 'balloon' as well… you should try giving up the juice boxes and drink a lot of water, and instead of only doing fruit try and have a nice complex salad and one piece of fruit on those days. I can guarantee you will notice significant changes in your weight and how you feel!" exclaimed my beautiful secretary to me.

She provided the friendly advice after I complained that I was going through a period of significant ARNABloating at ResponseTek. After shedding some extra pounds in India following the infamous Satyam Diet, I had started re-inflating my spare tire at my job back in Vancouver. With a world of dining options in the downtown core, I explored a new restaurant every day. The possibilities were limitless - Monday sushi, Tuesday fish and chips, Wednesday pizza, Thursday burger, Friday burrito!

After my secretary's sound salad advice, I tried alternating salad and eating out for a couple of weeks. I bought a large bag of salad into the office and left it in the freezer. On the first day it tasted fine, although incredibly bland. I could not add dressing as that would neutralize the health benefits of eating the salad. After a few bits of vegetable accidentally fell into my cup of hot chocolate, I tried mixing the salad with chocolate milk to add some flavour but the results were unsatisfactory. Two days later when I returned to the refrigerator to retrieve my salad it was completely soggy. It had become frozen solid while in the freezer and then thawed out in the fridge, leaving it a wet inedible mess. Despite good intentions, my salad experiment had ended in failure.


"You can live to be 100 if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be 100." ~ Woody Allen

June 02, 2010


In a country where meeting a fluent English speaker is only slightly less difficult than finding a good driver, I get by mostly with sign language, grunts, pointing, head nods, and artistic skills. One of the hardest things is to communicate with barbers on how I want my hair cut -"Same style, but shorter". A couple of times a Chinese friend accompanied me and explained to the barber what I wanted. On several other occasions, I would explain my desires over the phone to a Chinese speaker and then hand it over to the hairstylist so that the instructions could be relayed onwards.

I decreased my reliance on others even though my Chinese skills did not improve. I started indicating the length of hair I wanted remaining on my head by showing the gap between my thumb and forefinger. I then made a "bzzzzzzzzzzz" noise to suggest the use of a trimmer for my sideburns and the back of my head. This met with limited success. When a barber tried to buzz the top of my head off, I quickly fled the scene. I do not have a preferred barbershop, because the turnover rate is quite high and there is no guarantee a capable hairstylist will be found twice at the same location. Nowadays, I just find out the price of the haircut and sit down. The barber does the rest.


"There's many a man has more hair than wit." ~ William Shakespeare

April 08, 2010

Peking Opera

For several hundred years, the opera has captivated audiences in Beijing. A friend of mine was performing in one staged by an amateur troupe in the student area of Wudaokou. All the performers work or study during the week, but find time each weekend to practice one of the city's oldest art forms. When she invited me to attend I readily accepted. It was my first opera of any kind so I did not know what to expect.

Front row seats were reserved for me. I was commended for staying awake for the duration of the four hour extravaganza that featured singing, dancing, extensive makeup, and elaborate costumes. My friend's mother was also in attendance, along with many senior citizens. After the performance was over I delighted the performers by taking photos with them. The mother commented that I only posed for pictures with pretty young girls. The daughter gave me a frown.


"I don't mind what language an opera is sung in so long as it is a language I don't understand." ~ Edward Appleton

March 15, 2010

On Thin Ice

Unlike most of the major cities on Earth, Beijing is not located near any large body of water. Numerous lakes and streams are sprinkled throughout Beijing's districts to compensate. During the long winter months these waterways are frozen solid. Recreational fishermen dig holes in the ice and wait patiently for the fish to bite. Near the banks, old men strip to their undergarments, stretch, and then take a plunge in the frozen water. Less adventurous types simply skate on the icy surface.

I walked a 2 kilometer stretch of the Liangma river, occasionally having to duck under bridges. Several boats had been ensconced on the riverside. I spotted a man urinating in the middle of the river. He was cool as a cucumber as vapor rose from the area around his feet. To safeguard the public, I also contributed some liquid sealant to mend a few cracks in the ice that I came across.


Beauty, like ice, our footing does betray
Who can tread sure on the smooth, slippery way
Pleased with the surface, we glide swiftly on
And see the dangers that we cannot shun.

- John Dryden -

February 09, 2010

Sneak Peek

Although the Chinese education system relies largely on rote learning, many of the men have still retained a healthy sense of curiosity. In the toilet, they will not shy away from sneaking a peek at their stall neighbour's utensils while taking a leak. Foreigners are of particular interest, as this allows them to broaden their frame of reference. My focus on the task at hand and lack of peripheral vision prevents me from participating in this activity.

On another occasion, I was writing a text message on my mobile phone and a complete stranger came to shoulder surf. The contents of my SMS were written in English, so the man was using it as a chance to study up for the TOEFL examination he planned to take in the near future. He stood directly behind me, his head brushing against my jacket as he tried to read what I was texting. I made my message excruciatingly long, so he eventually lost interest and wandered off.


“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” - Albert Einstein

December 21, 2009

Gobs of Spit

One of the favourite pastimes of my Chinese comrades is to spit noisily in public. Whenever I hear a thunderous throat clearing noise followed by a symphony of spray and splotch, I know another gob of spit has left the mouth of a citizen and found its way on to the pavement. If there is silence following the release, the spittle has most likely landed on a living creature or some other absorbent material. The exact composition of the dribble varies, sometimes containing phlegm or leftovers from a past meal mixed with the saliva.

'Do not gob anywhere' signs do little to discourage the activity. The subzero temperatures of winter bring along miniature ice skating rinks, as each new drop of spit freezes in place on the pavement where it landed. Sometimes I hear the windup behind me and try to predict the gender of the spitter, turning around to check only after the drool has been discharged. More often than not, I guess incorrectly.


"Hhhhhhhhhhghhhhhhhhhhhhhooiikkkkkkkkkkkhhhhhhhh......pppthhhwwwwiee" - Anonymous

September 09, 2009

Jin Gang Guoji

The Prince of Peking needs a suitable residence. My Beijing pad is called Jin Gang Guoji (or Golden Harbour International in English). Located on the outer edges of the central business district (CBD), it is an abode of peace in a city of smog. The massive complex takes up a full city block, with its domed towers lit up majestically at night.

Security guards man the entrances, but the real work is done by the locked gates. The gates open with an electronic swipe card and are quite heavy. Petite Chinese ladies struggle mightily to open them as the guards watch nonchalantly. I wait patiently for several minutes while they use all their strength to push open the door. If I approach them from behind to lend a hand they are startled by my appearance. They go into a state of shock and start hyperventilating, so I have stopped providing this service.

The ARNABode of Beijing follows the traditional Chinese architectural pattern of having a central courtyard with rooms enclosing it from all sides, but on a much larger scale. Manicured gardens, an artificial lake that is occasionally filled with water, and a circular platform where old folks practice tai chi in the morning and children play in the evening are the main features of this inner sanctum. I estimate there are 5-10 thousand inhabitants living here. It is a five minute walk from my apartment to the street if I exit through the official gateway to the outside world. There are a string of convenience stores located on the bottom floor of the buildings that make up Jin Gang Guoji, and sometimes I use them as shortcuts for entry and exit. I often buy fruit, chewing gum, and phone cards to show my gratitude.

“When you're safe at home you wish you were having an adventure; when you're having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”
- Thornton Wilder -

April 13, 2009

Chinglish Ideals

Chinglish is the lovable form of entertainment produced by a mix of the Chinese mind and the English language. As I was walking along the street in Beijing one night I saw a van with the following Chinglish paragraph written on its side:
In Beijing, have a set of one's own houses, it is most untiring ideals of people. The ones that enabled more persons to live in got up in the good house, is ideals all the time of the others too. Go to in the city, mutually encourage between ideal and ideal.

March 31, 2009

The Ladybars of Sanlitun

My Irish flatmate arrived five days after I had moved in to my apartment. To welcome him a night on the town was in order. He was keen on visiting the House of Suzie Wong's. Supposedly a trendy Beijing club visited by Chinese ladies looking to snag Westerners, it turned out to be salsa night. After catching a few performances, we hurriedly left.

The night was still young so we took a taxi to the bar street in Sanlitun, Beijing's most famous nightlife area. I had been warned not to come here since it catered to the depraved. We were greeted by a line of brightly lit establishments with neon decor and groups of sinister individuals offering us ladies. We declined the offers and found a place with live music. Inside, a man offered to draw our portraits and a woman tried to sell us flowers. Once the band called it a night, so did we.


Chinese tout: Lady?
Frenchman: Absolutely not.
Chinese tout, leaning in with eyebrow raised: Sorry?

March 05, 2009

Full Moon

As I was strolling down a main thoroughfare in Beijing, I was somewhat intrigued when I thought that a small child was mooning me. I did not want to stare so I looked further ahead, only to see a whole column of similarly non-attired children on the sidewalk. I would find out that it had nothing to do with the lunar calendar.

The first bums I have seen on the streets of Beijing belonged to small children. Following environmentally sound best practices the toddlers have refrained from wearing diapers, opting instead for a hole in the pants. Sporting a stylish slit in their garments around their rear ends, the tiny tots deposit their byproducts near the trees that line the sidewalks. If no trees are in sight other crevices or receptacles suffice. The curvaceous contours of the ARNABum have yet to make a public appearance, as toilet facilities have so far been plentiful.

Bumper sticker: Boycott shampoo, demand real poo instead.

January 03, 2009

Refresher Course

The earliest recorded post on ARNABlog was on June 7th, 2006. This was the day I graduated from Simon Fraser University (SFU) as a proud holder of a Bachelors of Science degree from the schools of Computing Science and Business Administration. As I specialized in Information Systems, it was actually a joint major in both these disciplines. I had the option of taking more difficult courses to obtain the BSc, or I could take easier ones and settle for a BBA.

I crisscrossed the globe in the next two and a half years, collecting a profusion of experiences and leaving behind a legacy of goodwill. I flew off to India, worked tirelessly for a year with Satyam, traveled to Europe, returned to Vancouver, found a job with ResponseTek, and took a few courses at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. I finally returned to the SFU Burnaby campus when the annual open house was held.

Eager students demonstrated their projects and explained why they were drawn to one field or another. The students had not changed much from my years, although the physical infrastructure had improved vastly. New buildings had popped up on the fringes of the university that I remembered. The bus stops were now covered, protecting today's students from the harsh elements of Burnaby Mountain. I also discovered that SFU had an impressive Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, something I had never stumbled upon during my years as a scholar there.


Refresher course definition: A course that reviews and updates a topic for those who have not kept abreast of developments.

October 28, 2008

The Namesake

One of my favourite books is The Namesake, written by Jhumpa Lahiri. The Boston-based Bengali author tells the quintessential tale of a young man born and raised in the West to Indian parents. A Bengali man has an arranged marriage and then brings his new wife to North America. They build a life together and start a family. The son is caught between two cultures, struggling to define his identity. The father is a heart attack prone university professor and the mother is a lonely housewife. The novel was adapted into a film by Mira Nair and starred Kal Penn as the title character. My namesake, Arnab Sen , worked as an art department trainee for the movie.

"Two Worlds. One Journey."

July 16, 2008

Measures of Men: Indices

An index is a useful tool for tracking trends in a quantifiable manner using observable facts. Indices can be used to measure almost anything from the stock market to body mass to satisfaction over a period of time using some kind of standard measure or reference.

The SENSEX had some of its best years in 2006 and 2007, as the Indian economy surged. The SENSitive indEX measures the performance of the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), the oldest one in Asia and the largest in the world in terms of number of companies listed. The SENSEX uses a free-float market capitalization methodology to calculate the index. This takes into account the number of shares that are readily available in the market of the underlying companies that the index is composed and then multiplying them by their price.

Satyam had the Associate Delight Index (ADI) to measure the job satisfaction of its employees. I introduced the concept of the Female ADI (FADI) after careful study. I noted that FADI increased at whichever office location I worked in and dropped whenever I left. When explaining this phenomenon to some of my colleagues, they said that although the dramatic rise of the FADI was interesting, what they really wanted to know was whether I could help with the MAID (Male Associated Index of Delight).

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is another useful tool in measuring the status of the ARNABody's seasonal fluctuations. The BMI takes a ratio of a person's weight (in kilograms) to the square of their height (in meters) to estimate their level of body fat. The result will go into one of the following four buckets - underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese.


See also:

June 10, 2008

The Madman

According to the Are You a Psychopath? Test, I am not one:

"You have many of the same qualities of a psychopath while also showing some delusional tendencies. This is deeply concerning, but there is a faint chance that with therapy and medication you could be a productive member of society. You're probably not a psychopath."

Four variables were tracked to determine my psychopathic makeup - empathy, delusionality, sociability, and lawfulness. I was higher than 13% of the other survey takers on the empathic scale, higher than 55% on delusional, higher than 20% on sociable, and higher than 36% on law-abiding.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

In India, I would frequent sidewalk stalls or more refined establishments for the purposes of trimming my hair. I would also get a shave at the barbershop, and occasionally indulge in a head massage or facial treatment. I would vigilantly note whether the barber used a new razor blade to minimize my chance of infection. In Canada, I must perform the barberly duties myself due to my comparatively low standard of living. My previous duties were limited to seating myself in front of the barber and being aware of safety issues. They have now multiplied to include the actual act of pogonotrophy itself and the ensuing cleanup.

After many hours of blood, sweat, and hairs, I have become somewhat of an expert at cultivating the ARNABeard and in preventing the reunification of the ARNABrow. I pay carefeul attention to the follicles on my face, but I sever all emotional attachment to them the moment they are no longer attached to my bodice. I often neglect the post-trim environmental maintenance which includes tasks such as washing and cleaning all the tools of the trade - the disposable razor for a quick shave, the electric razor for more advances styling, and the miniature sewing scissors for shaping. The gathering of the fur that has fallen to the ground like rain from the heavens is not a task I look forward to either. Some of the hair escapes my attention and makes their way into the pipe and sewage system of my home. On one occasion, all the pipes had become clogged and were in danger of exploding due to the vast deposits of my threadlike fibre. A professional plumber had to be called in during this time of crisis to handle the hairy situation.